About the Author

Vincent Lam

Born in London, Ontario, Vincent Lam is an emergency physician who also works in international air evacuation and on expeditions. His non-fiction has been widely published in Canada. He and his wife live in Toronto.

Books by this Author
Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures
Excerpt

How to Get into Medical School, Part I
Desperate stragglers arrived late for the molecular biology final examination, their feet wet from tramping through snowbanks and their faces damp from running. Some still wore coats, and rummaged in the pockets for pens. Entering the exam hall, a borrowed gymnasium, from the whipping chaos of the snowstorm was to be faced with a void. Eyeglasses fogged, xenon lamps burned their blue-tinged light, and the air was calm with its perpetual fragrance of old paint. The lamps buzzed, and their constant static was like a sheet pulled out from under the snowstorm, though low enough that the noise vanished quickly. Invigilators led latecomers to vacant seats among the hundreds of desks, each evenly spaced at the University of Ottawa’s minimum requisite distance.

The invigilators allowed them to sit the exam but, toward the end of the allotted period, ignored their pleas for extra time on account of the storm. Ming, who had finished early, centred her closed exam booklet in front of her. Fitzgerald was still hunched over his paper. She didn’t want to wait outside for him, preferring it to be very coincidental that she would leave the room at the same time he did. Hopefully he would suggest they go for lunch together. If he did not ask, she would be forced to, perhaps using a little joke. Ming tended to stumble over humour. She could ask what he planned to do this afternoon – was that the kind of thing people said? On scrap paper, she wrote several possible ways to phrase the question, and in doing so almost failed to notice when Fitzgerald stood up, handed in his exam, and left the room. She expected to rush after him, but he stood outside the exam hall.

“Are you waiting for someone?” she asked.

Shortly after they arrived at the Thai-Laotian café half a block from campus, Ming said deliberately, “Fitz, I simply wanted to wish you the best in your future endeavours. You are obviously intelligent, and I’m sure you will be a great success.”

The restaurant was overly warm, and Fitz struggled out of his coat, wrestled his sweater over his head, leaving his hair in a wild, electrified state. He ran his hands over his head, and instead of smoothing his hair this resulted in random clumps jutting straight up.

“Same to you,” he said, smiling at her almost excitedly.

She watched him scan the bar menu. When she asked for water, he followed suit. She liked that.
She said, “Also, thank you for explaining the Krebs cycle to me.”

“Any time,” said Fitz.

“I feel guilty that I haven’t been completely open,” said Ming. She considered her prepared phrases and selected one, saying, “It didn’t seem like the right time in the middle of exams.”

“Nothing in real life makes sense during exams,” said Fitzgerald. He tilted in the chair but kept a straight back. Ming reassured herself that he had also been anticipating “a talk,” and so–she concluded with an administrative type of resolution–it was appropriate that she had raised the topic of “them.”

She leaned forward and almost whispered, “This is awkward, but I have strong emotional suspicions. Such suspicions are not quite the same as emotions. I’m sure you can understand that distinction. I have this inkling that you have an interest in me.” She didn’t blurt it out, instead forced herself to pace these phrases. “The thing of it is that I can’t have a romantic relationship with you. Not that I want to.” Now she was off the path of her rehearsed lines. “Not that I wouldn’t want to, because there’s no specific reason that I wouldn’t, but I– Well, what I’m trying to say is that even though I don’t especially want to, if I did, then I couldn’t.” The waiter brought shrimp chips and peanut sauce. “So that’s that.”

“All right,” said Fitzgerald.

“I should have told you earlier, when I first got that feeling.”

“You’ve given the issue some thought.”

“Not much. I just wanted to clarify.”

Fitz picked up a shrimp chip by its edge, dipped it in the peanut sauce with red pepper flakes, and crunched. His face became sweaty and bloomed red as he chewed, then coughed. He grasped the water glass and took a quick gulp.

Ming said, “Are you upset?”

He coughed to his right side, and had difficulty stopping. He reminded himself to sit up straight while coughing, realized that he wasn’t covering his mouth, covered his mouth, was embarrassed that his fair skin burned hot and red, wondered in a panicky blur if this redness would be seen to portray most keenly his injured emotional state, his physical vulnerability in choking, his Anglocentric intolerance to chili, his embarrassment at not initially covering his mouth, his obvious infatuation with Ming, or–worst of all–could be interpreted as a feeble attempt to mask or distract from his discomfort at her pre-emptive romantic rejection.

Ming was grateful for this interlude, for she had now entirely forgotten her rehearsed stock of diplomatically distant but consoling though slightly superior phrases.

“Hot sauce. I’m fine,” he gasped, coughing.

There was a long restaurant pause, in which Ming was aware of the other diners talking, although she could not perceive what their conversations were about.

She said, “I’ve embarrassed us both.”

“I’m glad you mentioned it.”

“So you are interested,” she said. “Or you were interested until a moment ago. Is that why you’re glad that I mentioned it?”

“It doesn’t matter, does it? What you’ve just said has made it irrelevant. Or, it would be irrelevant if it were previously relevant, but I’m glad you brought up your feelings,” said Fitzgerald. He picked up the menu.

“Don’t feel obliged to tell me whether I needed to say what I just said.”

“It was great to study together. You’ve got a great handle on . . . on mitochondria.”

The waiter came. Ming felt unable to read the menu, and pointed at a lunch item in the middle of the page. She got up to use the bathroom, and wondered in the mirror why she had not worn lipstick – not taken a minute this morning to look good. Then, she reminded herself that she should have actually taken measures to appear unattractive. Nonetheless, Ming examined her purse for lipstick, finding only extra pens and a crumpled exam schedule. When she returned, they smiled politely at each other for a little while. They ate, and the noodles fell persistently from Fitzgerald’s chopsticks onto the plate, resisting consumption. Ming asked if he wanted a fork, and he refused. After a while, as Fitzgerald’s pad thai continued to slither from his grasp, Ming caught the waiter’s eye, who noticed Fitzgerald’s barely eaten plate and brought a fork without Ming having to ask.

Fitzgerald ate with the fork, and craved a beer.

“We’re great study partners,” said Ming, still holding her chopsticks. “I want to clarify that it’s not because of you.” She had to get into medical school this year, and therefore couldn’t allow distraction. Her family, she said, was modern in what they wanted for her education, and old-fashioned in what they imagined for her husband. They would disapprove of Fitzgerald, a non-Chinese. They would be upset with Ming, and she couldn’t take these risks while she prepared to apply for medical school. The delicate nature of this goal, upon which one must be crucially focused, superseded everything else, Ming reminded Fitzgerald. He stopped eating while she talked. She looked down, stabbed her chopsticks into the noodles, and twisted them around.

He asked, “What about you?”

“What do you mean, me?” she said.

“Telling me this. Did you feel . . . interested?”

“I thought you might be.”

“You might say that I’ve noticed you, but I accept the situation. Priorities.” The imperative of medical school applications carried the unassailable weight of a religious edict.

“Very well,” she said, as if they had clarified a business arrangement.

The bill came. Fitzgerald tried to pay and Ming protested. He said that she could get the bill next time and she insisted that they should share.

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Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures (Limited Edition)
Excerpt

How to Get into Medical School, Part I
Desperate stragglers arrived late for the molecular biology final examination, their feet wet from tramping through snowbanks and their faces damp from running. Some still wore coats, and rummaged in the pockets for pens. Entering the exam hall, a borrowed gymnasium, from the whipping chaos of the snowstorm was to be faced with a void. Eyeglasses fogged, xenon lamps burned their blue-tinged light, and the air was calm with its perpetual fragrance of old paint. The lamps buzzed, and their constant static was like a sheet pulled out from under the snowstorm, though low enough that the noise vanished quickly. Invigilators led latecomers to vacant seats among the hundreds of desks, each evenly spaced at the University of Ottawa’s minimum requisite distance.

The invigilators allowed them to sit the exam but, toward the end of the allotted period, ignored their pleas for extra time on account of the storm. Ming, who had finished early, centred her closed exam booklet in front of her. Fitzgerald was still hunched over his paper. She didn’t want to wait outside for him, preferring it to be very coincidental that she would leave the room at the same time he did. Hopefully he would suggest they go for lunch together. If he did not ask, she would be forced to, perhaps using a little joke. Ming tended to stumble over humour. She could ask what he planned to do this afternoon – was that the kind of thing people said? On scrap paper, she wrote several possible ways to phrase the question, and in doing so almost failed to notice when Fitzgerald stood up, handed in his exam, and left the room. She expected to rush after him, but he stood outside the exam hall.

“Are you waiting for someone?” she asked.

Shortly after they arrived at the Thai-Laotian café half a block from campus, Ming said deliberately, “Fitz, I simply wanted to wish you the best in your future endeavours. You are obviously intelligent, and I’m sure you will be a great success.”

The restaurant was overly warm, and Fitz struggled out of his coat, wrestled his sweater over his head, leaving his hair in a wild, electrified state. He ran his hands over his head, and instead of smoothing his hair this resulted in random clumps jutting straight up.

“Same to you,” he said, smiling at her almost excitedly.

She watched him scan the bar menu. When she asked for water, he followed suit. She liked that.
She said, “Also, thank you for explaining the Krebs cycle to me.”

“Any time,” said Fitz.

“I feel guilty that I haven’t been completely open,” said Ming. She considered her prepared phrases and selected one, saying, “It didn’t seem like the right time in the middle of exams.”

“Nothing in real life makes sense during exams,” said Fitzgerald. He tilted in the chair but kept a straight back. Ming reassured herself that he had also been anticipating “a talk,” and so–she concluded with an administrative type of resolution–it was appropriate that she had raised the topic of “them.”

She leaned forward and almost whispered, “This is awkward, but I have strong emotional suspicions. Such suspicions are not quite the same as emotions. I’m sure you can understand that distinction. I have this inkling that you have an interest in me.” She didn’t blurt it out, instead forced herself to pace these phrases. “The thing of it is that I can’t have a romantic relationship with you. Not that I want to.” Now she was off the path of her rehearsed lines. “Not that I wouldn’t want to, because there’s no specific reason that I wouldn’t, but I– Well, what I’m trying to say is that even though I don’t especially want to, if I did, then I couldn’t.” The waiter brought shrimp chips and peanut sauce. “So that’s that.”

“All right,” said Fitzgerald.

“I should have told you earlier, when I first got that feeling.”

“You’ve given the issue some thought.”

“Not much. I just wanted to clarify.”

Fitz picked up a shrimp chip by its edge, dipped it in the peanut sauce with red pepper flakes, and crunched. His face became sweaty and bloomed red as he chewed, then coughed. He grasped the water glass and took a quick gulp.

Ming said, “Are you upset?”

He coughed to his right side, and had difficulty stopping. He reminded himself to sit up straight while coughing, realized that he wasn’t covering his mouth, covered his mouth, was embarrassed that his fair skin burned hot and red, wondered in a panicky blur if this redness would be seen to portray most keenly his injured emotional state, his physical vulnerability in choking, his Anglocentric intolerance to chili, his embarrassment at not initially covering his mouth, his obvious infatuation with Ming, or–worst of all–could be interpreted as a feeble attempt to mask or distract from his discomfort at her pre-emptive romantic rejection.

Ming was grateful for this interlude, for she had now entirely forgotten her rehearsed stock of diplomatically distant but consoling though slightly superior phrases.

“Hot sauce. I’m fine,” he gasped, coughing.

There was a long restaurant pause, in which Ming was aware of the other diners talking, although she could not perceive what their conversations were about.

She said, “I’ve embarrassed us both.”

“I’m glad you mentioned it.”

“So you are interested,” she said. “Or you were interested until a moment ago. Is that why you’re glad that I mentioned it?”

“It doesn’t matter, does it? What you’ve just said has made it irrelevant. Or, it would be irrelevant if it were previously relevant, but I’m glad you brought up your feelings,” said Fitzgerald. He picked up the menu.

“Don’t feel obliged to tell me whether I needed to say what I just said.”

“It was great to study together. You’ve got a great handle on . . . on mitochondria.”

The waiter came. Ming felt unable to read the menu, and pointed at a lunch item in the middle of the page. She got up to use the bathroom, and wondered in the mirror why she had not worn lipstick – not taken a minute this morning to look good. Then, she reminded herself that she should have actually taken measures to appear unattractive. Nonetheless, Ming examined her purse for lipstick, finding only extra pens and a crumpled exam schedule. When she returned, they smiled politely at each other for a little while. They ate, and the noodles fell persistently from Fitzgerald’s chopsticks onto the plate, resisting consumption. Ming asked if he wanted a fork, and he refused. After a while, as Fitzgerald’s pad thai continued to slither from his grasp, Ming caught the waiter’s eye, who noticed Fitzgerald’s barely eaten plate and brought a fork without Ming having to ask.

Fitzgerald ate with the fork, and craved a beer.

“We’re great study partners,” said Ming, still holding her chopsticks. “I want to clarify that it’s not because of you.” She had to get into medical school this year, and therefore couldn’t allow distraction. Her family, she said, was modern in what they wanted for her education, and old-fashioned in what they imagined for her husband. They would disapprove of Fitzgerald, a non-Chinese. They would be upset with Ming, and she couldn’t take these risks while she prepared to apply for medical school. The delicate nature of this goal, upon which one must be crucially focused, superseded everything else, Ming reminded Fitzgerald. He stopped eating while she talked. She looked down, stabbed her chopsticks into the noodles, and twisted them around.

He asked, “What about you?”

“What do you mean, me?” she said.

“Telling me this. Did you feel . . . interested?”

“I thought you might be.”

“You might say that I’ve noticed you, but I accept the situation. Priorities.” The imperative of medical school applications carried the unassailable weight of a religious edict.

“Very well,” she said, as if they had clarified a business arrangement.

The bill came. Fitzgerald tried to pay and Ming protested. He said that she could get the bill next time and she insisted that they should share.

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Extraordinary Canadians: Tommy Douglas

Extraordinary Canadians: Tommy Douglas

A Penguin Lives Biography
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
More Info
The Flu Pandemic and You

The Flu Pandemic and You

A Canadian Guide
edition:Paperback
tagged :
More Info
Excerpt

Chapter 8
Things To Do In Everyday Life To Limit The Spread Of Influenza

This Chapter In One Page . . .

• Influenza infects your body through your mucous membranes: your nose, mouth, and eyes.

• Good handwashing and good cough and sneeze etiquette are always wise habits to reduce the risk of spreading or contracting any infection, and they are crucial to protecting your health during a pandemic. Be a good example for your children.

• “Social distancing” and trying to stay more than 1 metre away from people will decrease your risk of spreading or contracting influenza during a pandemic.

• Use a mask if you need to be less than 1 metre from a person who is ill with influenza, or if you must be in a crowd during Phase 6 of a pandemic. If you can, it’s even better to avoid crowds at this time.

• If you are going to be handling the bodily fluids or secretions of someone who is ill with influenza, wash your hands even more and consider wearing gloves.

• Choosing how to go about your daily life during a pandemic means striking a balance between an activity’s risk of exposing you to influenza, and whether that activity is essential for you.

• Cooperate with any containment measures in your community if they are used. They are well understood to be disruptive and therefore won’t be used unless they are felt to be important.

Chapter 4
Will History Repeat Itself? Influenza Pandemics Over The Centuries

This Chapter In One Page . . .

• Influenza pandemics have occurred repeatedly over the centuries.

• There were three pandemics in the 20th century. The first one was especially devastating, and the other two were much milder.

• In 1976, a pandemic was predicted, and a mass immunization campaign was undertaken in the United States to respond to this risk. The feared pandemic did not occur.

• SARS gave the world a recent taste of a global infectious disease outbreak. The rapid containment of SARS was an international public health success but does not guarantee a similar degree of success with an influenza pandemic.

• Some lessons from the influenza pandemics of the 20th century:

1. Pandemics often give some warning before doing their worst damage.
2. Pandemics tend to feature a “signature age shift,” meaning that younger adults become seriously ill and die in greater proportion than in seasonal influenza epidemics.
3. Pandemics tend to feature a rapid surge in the number of ill people.
4. The pandemics of the 20th century have given us knowledge and insight to be able to respond more meaningfully to future pandemics.
5. Honest and clear communication is the cornerstone of an effective response to a pandemic.

Food and Emergency Supplies to Stockpile

Some food and non­perishables
• Rice, lentils, beans, other grains
• Canned meats, fruits, vegetables, and soups
• Sugar, salt, and pepper
• High­energy, protein, or fruit bars
• Dry cereal or granola
• Peanut butter or nuts
• Dried fruit
• Crackers
• Canned juices
• Bottled water
• Specialized food for infants, elderly people, or persons with medical conditions

Some medical and other emergency supplies
• Prescribed medications
• Necessary medical equipment such as glucose test strips and needles for diabetics
• Soap and/or alcohol-based hand sanitizer or cleanser
• “Comfort” medicines such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and Gravol
• Thermometer
• Multivitamins
• Contraceptives
• Oral rehydration fluids or powder
• Soap and detergent for clothes and dishes
• Flashlight
• Batteries
• Candles and matches
• Extra fuel for car, portable stove, or wood stove
• Portable radio (preferably windup)
• Manual can opener
• Garbage bags
• Tissues, toilet paper, disposable diapers
• Telephone that does not require an electrical outlet
• Surgical or procedure masks (not expensive N95 masks or respirators) and gloves
• First aid kit
• Cash
• Bicycle
• Extra warm clothing and blankets

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The Headmaster's Wager
Excerpt

1930, Shantou, China
On a winter night shortly after the New Year festivities, Chen Kai sat on the edge of the family kang, the brick bed. He settled the blanket around his son.
 
“Gwai jai,” he said. Well-behaved boy. “Close your eyes.”
 
“Sit with me?” said Chen Pie Sou with a yawn. “You promised . . .”
 
“I will.” He would stay until the boy slept. A little more delay. Muy Fa had insisted that Chen Kai remain for the New Year celebration, never mind that the coins from their poor autumn’s harvest were almost gone. What few coins there were, after the landlord had taken his portion of the crop. Chen Kai had conceded that it would be bad luck to leave just before the holiday and agreed to stay a little longer. Now, a few feet away in their one-room home, Muy Fa scraped the tough skin of rice from the bottom of the pot for the next day’s porridge. Chen Kai smoothed his son’s hair. “If you are to grow big and strong, you must sleep.” Chen Pie Sou was as tall as his father’s waist. He was as big as any boy of his age, for his parents often accepted the knot of hunger in order to feed him.
 
“Why . . .” A hesitation, the choosing of words. “Why must I grow big and strong?” A fear in the tone, of his father’s absence.
 
“For your ma, and your ba.” Chen Kai tousled his son’s hair. “For China.”
 
Later that night, Chen Kai was to board a train. In the morning, he would arrive at the coast, locate a particular boat. A village connection, a cheap passage without a berth. Then, a week on the water to reach Cholon. This place in Indochina was just like China, he had heard, except with money to be made, from both the Annamese and their French rulers.
 
With his thick, tough fingers, Chen Kai fumbled to undo the charm that hung from his neck. He reached around his son’s neck as if to embrace him, carefully knotted the strong braid of pig gut. Chen Pie Sou searched his chest, and his hand recognized the family good luck charm, a small, rough lump of gold.
 
“Why does it have no design, ba?” said Chen Pie Sou. He was surprised to be given this valuable item. He knew the charm. He also knew the answers to his questions. “Why is it just a lump?”
 
“Your ancestor found it this way. He left it untouched rather than having it struck or moulded, to remind his descendants that one never knows the form wealth takes, or how luck arrives.”
 
“How did he find it?” Chen Pie Sou rubbed its blunted angles and soft contours with the tips of his fingers. It was the size of a small lotus seed. He pressed it into the soft place in his own throat. Nearby, his mother, Muy Fa, sighed with impatience. Chen Pie Sou liked to ask certain things, despite knowing the response.
 
“He pried it from the Gold Mountain in a faraway country. This was the first nugget. Much more was unearthed, in a spot everyone had abandoned. The luck of this wealth brought him home.”
 
It was cool against Chen Pie Sou’s skin. Now, his right hand gripped his father’s. “Where you are going, are there mountains of gold?”
 
“That is why I’m going.”
 
“Ba,” said Chen Pie Sou intently. He pulled at the charm. “Take this with you, so that its luck will keep you safe and bring you home.”
 
“I don’t need it. I’ve worn it for so long that the luck has worked its way into my skin. Close your eyes.”
 
“I’m not sleepy.”
 
“But in your dreams, you will come with me. To the Gold Mountain.”
 
Chen Kai added a heaping shovel of coal to the embers beneath the kang. Muy Fa, who always complained that her husband indulged their son, made a soft noise with her tongue.
 
“Don’t worry, dear wife. I will find so much money in Indochina that we will pile coal into the kang all night long,” boasted Chen Kai. “And we will throw out the burned rice in the bottom of that pot.”
 
“You will come back soon?” asked Chen Pie Sou, his eyes closed now. Chen Kai squeezed his son’s shoulder. “Sometimes, you may think I am far away. Not so. Whenever you sleep, I am with you in your dreams.”
 
 “But when will you return?”
 
“As soon as I have collected enough gold.”
 
“How much?”
 
“Enough . . . at the first moment I have enough to provide for you, and your mother, I will be on my way home.”
 
The boy seized his father’s hand in both of his. “Ba, I’m scared.”
 
“Of what?”
 
“That you won’t come back.”
 
“Shh . . . there is nothing to worry about. Your ancestor went to the Gold Mountain, and this lump around your neck proves that he came back. As soon as I have enough to provide for you, I will be back.”
 
As if startled, the boy opened his eyes wide and struggled with the nugget, anxious to get it off. “Father, take this with you. If you already have this gold, it will not take you as long to collect what you need.”
 
“Gwai jai,” said Chen Kai, and he calmed the boy’s hands with his own. “I will find so much that such a little bit would not delay me.”
 
“You will sit with me?”
 
“Until you are asleep. As I promised.” Chen Kai stroked his son’s head.
 
“Then you will see me in your dreams.”
 
Chen Pie Sou tried to keep his eyelids from falling shut. They became heavy, and the kang was especially warm that night. When he woke into the cold, bright morning, his breath was like the clouds of a speeding train, wispy white—vanishing. His mother was making the breakfast porridge, her face tear-stained. His father was gone.
 
The boy yelled, “Ma! It’s my fault!”
 
She jumped. “What is it?”
 
“I’m sorry,” sobbed Chen Pie Sou. “I meant to stay awake. If I had, ba would still be here.”
 
1966, Cholon, Vietnam
It was a new morning towards the end of the dry season, early enough that the fleeting shade still graced the third-floor balcony of the Percival Chen English Academy. Chen Pie Sou, who was known to most as Headmaster Percival Chen, and his son, Dai Jai, sat at the small wicker breakfast table, looking out at La Place de la Libération.
 
The market girls’ bright silk ao dais glistened. First light had begun to sweep across their bundles of cut vegetables for sale, the noodle sellers’ carts, the flame trees that shaded the sidewalks, and the flower sellers’ arrangements of blooms. Percival had just told Dai Jai that he wished to discuss a concerning matter, and now, as the morning drew itself out a little further, was allowing his son some time to anticipate what this might be.
 
Looking at his son was like examining himself at that age. At sixteen, Dai Jai had a man’s height, and, Percival assumed, certain desires. A boy’s impatience for their satisfaction was to be expected. Like Percival, Dai Jai had probing eyes, and full lips. Percival often thought it might be his lips which gave him such strong appetites, and wondered if it was the same for his son. Between Dai Jai’s eyebrows, and traced from his nose around the corners of his mouth, the beginnings of creases sometimes appeared. These so faint that no one but his father might notice, or recognize as the earliest outline of what would one day become a useful mask. Controlled, these lines would be a mask to show other men, hinting at insight regarding a delicate situation, implying an unspoken decision, or signifying nothing except to leave them guessing. Such creases were long since worn into the fabric of Percival’s face, but on Dai Jai they could still vanish—to show the smooth skin of a boy’s surprise. Now, they were slightly inflected, revealed Dai Jai’s worry over what his father might want to discuss, and concealed nothing from Percival. That was as it should be. Already, Percival regretted that he needed to reprimand his son, but in such a situation, it was the duty of a good father.

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